Software Systems Laboratory Wins Best Paper Awards at the OSDI and USENIX ATC Conferences

Researchers from the Software Systems Laboratory bagged Best Paper Awards at the 15th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI 2021) and the 2021 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 2021).

Jay Lepreau Best Paper Award, OSDI’21

DistAI: Data-Driven Automated Invariant Learning for Distributed Protocols
Jianan Yao, Runzhou Tao, Ronghui Gu, Jason Nieh, Suman Jana, and Gabriel Ryan


Distributed systems are notoriously hard to implement correctly due to non-determinism. Finding the inductive invariant of the distributed protocol is a critical step in verifying the correctness of distributed systems, but takes a long time to do even for simple protocols. We present DistAI, a data-driven automated system for learning inductive invariants for distributed protocols. DistAI generates data by simulating the distributed protocol at different instance sizes and recording states as samples. Based on the observation that invariants are often concise in practice, DistAI starts with small invariant formulas and enumerates all strongest possible invariants that hold for all samples. It then feeds those invariants and the desired safety properties to an SMT solver to check if the conjunction of the invariants and the safety properties is inductive. Starting with small invariant formulas and strongest possible invariants avoids large SMT queries, improving SMT solver performance. Because DistAI starts with the strongest possible invariants, if the SMT solver fails, DistAI does not need to discard failed invariants, but knows to monotonically weaken them and try again with the solver, repeating the process until it eventually succeeds. We prove that DistAI is guaranteed to find the ∃-free inductive invariant that proves the desired safety properties in finite time, if one exists. Our evaluation shows that DistAI successfully verifies 13 common distributed protocols automatically and outperforms alternative methods both in the number of protocols it verifies and the speed at which it does so, in some cases by more than two orders of magnitude.


USENIX ATC Best Paper Award, ATC’21

Argus: Debugging Performance Issues in Modern Desktop Applications with Annotated Causal Tracing
Lingmei Weng, Peng Huang, Jason Nieh, and Junfeng Yang


Modern desktop applications involve many asynchronous, concurrent interactions that make performance issues difficult to diagnose. Although prior work has used causal tracing for debugging performance issues in distributed systems, we find that these techniques suffer from high inaccuracies for desktop applications. We present Argus, a fast, effective causal tracing tool for debugging performance anomalies in desktop applications. Argus introduces a novel notion of strong and weak edges to explicitly model and annotate trace graph ambiguities, a new beam-search-based diagnosis algorithm to select the most likely causal paths in the presence of ambiguities, and a new way to compare causal paths across normal and abnormal executions. We have implemented Argus across multiple versions of macOS and evaluated it on 12 infamous spinning pinwheel issues in popular macOS applications. Argus diagnosed the root causes for all issues, 10 of which were previously unknown, some of which have been open for several years. Argus incurs less than 5% CPU overhead when its system-wide tracing is enabled, making always-on tracing feasible.